Hamas leader Sinwar: We are ready to negotiate for hostages

Leader of the Hamas terror group tells Egyptian mediator he wants to negotiate a prisoner swap in exchange for Israeli hostages and bodies of two IDF soldiers.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar said Monday that the Gaza terror group is ready to hold immediate, but indirect, negotiations with Israel for a prisoner exchange.

The terror group currently holds two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two IDF soldiers.

Sgt. Oren Shaul and Lt. Hadar Goldin were killed in action during the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, and their bodies have since been held by Hamas.

Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed are both Israeli civilians who suffer from mental illness and walked on their own across the border into Gaza. Mengistu entered Gaza in September 2014 and al-Sayed the year after. Both are being held hostage by Hamas, which is denying access to them by the International Red Cross.

On Monday, Sinwar met in Gaza City with the head of the Egyptian General Intelligence Abbas Kamel to discuss the recent ceasefire. Sinwar hinted that Hamas seeks a deal that would include the release of more than 1,000 security prisoners, including hundreds of convicted terrorists.

“Sure we can take what we deserve – remember the number 1111 well,” Sinwar said in comments reported by Kan Radio, implying that Hamas wants large numbers of prisoners released, similar to the 2011 prisoner exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Sinwar added that there had been some progress recently on the issue, but that progress was halted, he said, because of the political situation in Israel.

Earlier, Hamas deputy leader Khalil al-Haya said that shortly before the fighting in the Gaza Strip, progress had been made in talks on a prisoner exchange deal, and that if Israel is serious it will be possible to advance the matter quickly.

However, al-Haya added that the issue of prisoners and the rehabilitation process of the Gaza Strip are two separate issues that should not be linked.

On Sunday, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi met in Cairo with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, as Egypt continued to mediate the details of the Israel-Hamas ceasefire.

“Egypt is an important regional ally, committed to security and stability, and the maintenance and expansion of peace in the region,” Asheknazi said. “We all need to act to prevent strengthening extremist elements that threaten regional stability, and to ensure the return home of the missing persons and prisoners held by Hamas.”

Ashkenazi said that Israel would not allow the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip and Hamas renewing its terrorist capabilities without resolving the issue of returning the hostages.

The Saudi channel al-Arabiya reported that Kamel was expected to present a plan for a prisoner exchange under which Israel would suspend assassination operations against the Hamas leadership, stop the expansion of settlements and suspend the evictions of several Arab families from Jewish houses in Jerusalem.

In return, Israel asked the Egyptians to bring commitments from the Hamas and Islamic Jihad factions terror groups to not fire rockets at Israel.

Easing the blockade on Gaza would be conditioned on the hostage issue.